A conservative scholar argues that Barack Obama’s presidency represents the hidden decline of liberalism.
Avoiding the vitriol of many right-wing critiques, Kesler (Government/Claremont McKenna Coll.) regards Obama as a figure who will transform liberalism terminally, by calling most of its assumptions into question. Much of his critique seems semantic in nature: referring to “the famous monosyllables, hope and change,” he acidly asserts, “judging by his record as president they are likely to remain his most renowned utterances.” However, much of the narrative looks away from the current political landscape and at the presidencies of Woodrow Wilson (“a genuine democrat who kept his leadership theory firmly grounded in Progressive democracy”), Franklin Roosevelt (“Never one to let an emergency go to waste”), and Lyndon Johnson (“The Great Society…ended with a bang, followed by the long whimper of white liberal guilt”). Kesler peruses their historical narratives and political philosophies for some clue as to how these ambitious individuals’ idealism could lead to his nightmare vision of Obama as steward of a vast, grasping and nonfunctioning government. Regarding Obama himself, the author attempts nuance in his harsh assessment. “As Obama’s grappling shows,” he writes, “intelligent and morally sensitive liberals may try to suppress or internalize the problem of relativism but it cannot be ignored or forgotten.” Kesler adeptly wields secondary sources as well as Obama’s own books and speeches (and those of the earlier presidents), but his own key assertions can be less comprehensible: “Avant-garde liberalism used to be about progress; now it’s about nothingness.” The author is undoubtedly erudite, but he seems to subscribe, cynically, to the post-1960s conservative view of progressive accomplishments as merely a sort of incomprehensible outgrowth of white guilt and to see no value in the presence of the post-1930s social safety net.
Will provide argumentative intellectual ammunition for conservative book-buyers dissatisfied with the last four years.